Unlike the Christmas card snow presently falling in Oldham, there is never a dull moment across the Borough’s political landscape, writes Neil Wilby.
Never far away from controversy are the nine (or maybe eight?) councillors who represent the Conservative Party on the local council. One of their number, Cllr Robert Barnes, is said to be facing suspension over defying the party whip on a budget vote earlier this month. At which point the Tories would lose their Joint Opposition status (read more here).
At the next Full Council meeting, the last of the municipal year and scheduled to take place on 15th March, 2023, a fairly dull Agenda is considerably lit up by Item 11. Notice of Opposition Business: A lengthy motion headed ‘Reputation of Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council At An All Time Low‘, moved by Cllr Bethany Sharp and seconded by Cllr Dave Arnott (pictured above left and centre), reads thus:
“Oldham is a town made up of decent hard-working people. There is an untapped potential which is yet to be unleashed. Sadly, the same cannot be said of Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council (OMBC).
“OMBC is dragging our Borough down, due to poor leadership and mismanagement of our history, assets and services.
“The failure of OMBC to deliver the best possible services that many residents rely on and pay for, is one of the key reasons why this administration is failing this Borough. It is not the hard-working frontline staff that are to blame, they have been dealt a bad hand, it is the lack of leadership and responsibility at the top. There is an iron law at the top of OMBC; which is that it is run in the interests of those who run it, instead of those who pay for it.
“Driven by the next press release or headline, OMBC and this administration is failing to manage the numerous town centre focused projects properly, such as the thirty-two million pound overspend on the Cinema, the failed ‘Hotel Future and Conference Centre’ that was never built, two Coliseum theatre plans that were scrapped, Marks and Spencer’s, Lidl and a ‘Budget’ Hotel at Princes’ Gate scrapped and failing to materialise.
“It is no wonder residents fear the costs of the Spindles/Town Centre project running over budget by tens of millions of pounds given the Councils track record.
“The bunker mentality that exists within the administration and leadership of OMBC is damaging this Borough. The failure by the administration to attract the right investment and failure to deliver on existing projects is damaging the prospects of our Borough. The failure to attract the right talent starts and ends with those at the top.
“In 2012 Oldham Council was runner up in the prestigious most improved council award and in 2014 Oldham was ‘highly commended’ at the LGA Council of the Year Awards. Since that high water mark things have gone very wrong and it is clear radical measures need to be taken to restore the confidence of our residents, our business community, and our workforce.
“Now more than ever we need to restore pride in the Metropolitan Borough of Oldham.
“It is clear this Council’s strengths are; spending millions of pounds of resident’s hard-earned money and throwing it away on failed scheme after failed scheme. It is clear this Council does not have the experience to manage the Borough’s finances and is incapable of bringing regeneration schemes to fruition in Oldham.
“If Oldham is to have any chance of rebuilding residents trust, incentivising people to stay or move into the area with their families and offering a full rounded living experience, then there needs to be massive change at this Council. Sadly this administration is not fit for purpose and nor is the leadership at the top of OMBC.
“This Council therefore resolves to:
“Admit that it is currently out of its depth and is incapable of building Oldham back up again without the necessary help and expertise.
“To write to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (which could be just about anyone who happened to be walking around London and strayed too near the Marsham Street HQ), noting that Oldham needs to seek professional support from external bodies in writing achievable funding bids for future projects and to ask for Oldham to be provided with extra support and guidance on how to run a local authority”.
It is guaranteed to raise the temperature in the civic chamber as Labour councillors – and possibly their Liberal Democrat counterparts – mock and ridicule the Tories before voting the motion down. A repeat of the most recent Oldham Council meeting when the local Conservative Party put forward a risible alternative budget for 2023/24.
Indeed, the Opposition motion may even draw fire from the Conservative benches as both mover and seconder have been described in the past by Saddleworth South’s Cllr Max Woodvine, amongst others, as ‘not proper Tories’ (read more here). By way of riposte, a well known Oldham Conservatives’ spokesperson describes their Saddleworth counterparts as ‘simpletons’.
Both Cllrs Sharp and Arnott have unarguable links to a notorious, unemployed, Tameside-based conspiracy theorist and his group of gullible, deluded supporters whom, appositely, self-style as ‘The Rabble’ (or Raja’s Rabble). As has happened previously, particularly with Cllr Arnott, the motion, set down by them, consists largely of a shopping list of Rabble tropes.
The bizarre notion that a Government, having turned an 80 seat majority, with four Prime Ministers since 2019, into likely Armageddon at the next general election, can provide effective intervention in Oldham is just too bad to be true.
But this is from the local Tories whom, please bear in mind, think that the Ukraine war is taking place in Russia – and publish that grotesquely mistaken belief on front page of their latest election newspaper.
The only part of the motion that would win support from a healthy caucus of elected Members (given a free vote), political commentators and long-suffering council taxpayers is the lack of cogent leadership, ownership of responsibility and ‘bunker mentality’ at the top of Oldham Council’s overgrown and rotting paid officer tree.
Not for nothing are OMBC known as the worst ‘cover-up council’ in the country: Criticise one officer, however fairly and well-evidenced, and the shutters come down around the entire senior management team (read more here): A motion, on a well drafted single premise of a much needed clearing out of the ‘dead wood’ in that executive forest, would likely have had a far better hearing in the civic chamber, and a chance of being carried, rather than wholesale pandering to The Rabble’s disenfranchised group of malcontents and axe-grinders.
Councillors Arnott and Sharp, both notably poor communicators on all recent evidence, were offered right of reply to this article. Neither acknowledged the email.
UPDATE: Much respected local Labour Party grandee, Jeremy Sutcliffe says: “An amateur rambling rant with criticisms of the Council based on gossip rather than focused research. What is frightening about it is that they offer no positive ideas about what [The Conservative Party] would do for the Borough were they be in control”.
Oldham rugby league legend and former Labour councillor, Adrian Alexander, observed: “Well that proves they are a bloody joke, advice from this awful government, give it a rest”.
A senior Labour Party figure in the region, who prefers not to be named, said more succinctly: “Beth not so Sharp”.
Another noted: “Tories have cheated. If Robert Barnes was suspended, as everyone suspects, then this motion could not have been brought under Opposition Business”.
In her motion-moving speech, Cllr Sharp signed off with a dig at the Labour politician by observing: ‘Not so much Beth Not So Sharp, more Sharp by Name, Sharp By Nature’. Touché’.
As expected, the motion was heavily defeated: Even the Failsworth Independent Party, with their close links to the Tories and, particularly, co-CSE ‘cover-up’ conspirators, Cllrs Arnott, Barnes and Quigg, could not support it.
The Liberal Democrats abstained.
Neither Cllr Barnes nor Cllr Arnott turned up for the meeting. Which rather tells its own stories. Lewis Quigg did, however, make one interesting remark, amongst his usual posturing and virtue signalling. Addressing Cllr Amanda Chadderton, he said: ‘As Leader are you just keeping the seat warm ready for the return of Arooj Shah’.
Amongst the nine councillors who gave apologies (15% of total) was Cllr Aftab Hussain, whom has caused significant concern in his ward over an overt link-up with notorious, unemployed, Tameside-based conspiracy theorist, Raja Miah. Campaigning for the forthcoming local elections. Bradford-born Miah’s stance remains the same as in previous years: All Asian and particularly Pakistani males in areas such as his own ward St Mary’s (Glodwick) are either paedophiles or paedophile protectors. How that will play out on the doorsteps remains to be seen.
A full clip of the 15 minute debate, quite entertaining in all truth, is embedded in this Neil Wilby Media article here.
Page last updated Sunday 19th March, 2023 at 1615hrs
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